Court issues detailed ruling examining "right of privacy" and corporate bullying
Scott Dalley sued Dykema Gossett, Lincoln National LIfe Insurance and other defendants arguing that Lincoln's attorneys and agents had abused legal process and invaded his privacy through the mis-use of a Temporary Restraining Order [TRO]. Dykema represented Lincoln in a dispute with a third-party agent who sold Lincoln insurance. It obtained a TRO prohibiting the third-party from deleting Lincoln information from its computers and authorizing Lincoln to copy the relevant data. Dalley performed some information technology work for the third-party, and other clients, from his apartment.
According to Dalley, Dykema's attorneys and their IT specialists made a surprise visit to his apartment, demanded access to all of his computer data, and threatened to take the computers with them if Dalley did not provide them access. Again, according to Dalley, Dykema's attorneys were pointed to the one hard-drive which contained Lincoln data, however, the Defendants insisted upon copying all of the information on all of his computers and spent the next 11 hours doing just that. Dalley argued that Lincoln and Dykema were guilty of wrongful conduct under several recognzied theories of law, based upon their alleged false representations or deceit and abusive behavior that exceeded the bounds of reason. The trial judge rejected all of Dalley's claims and he appealed.
On appeal, the Court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Dalley's claims alleging abuse of process, tortious interference with a business relationship, and reckless infliction of emotional distress. In doing so, it made a couple of surprising statements, including this one: "[T]he plaintiffs must allege that the interferer did something illegal, unethical or fraudulent [in order to establish that theory of wrong-doing]. There is nothing illegal, unethical or fraudulent in filing a lawsuit, whether groundless or not." The Court also held that Dalley's claims of an unwarranted allegation in the third-party case that Dalley had not complied with the TRO and his claims that he was harrassed and bullied solely to enhance Lincoln's litigation prospects against the third-party "did not describe conduct so extreme or outrageous that it surpasses all bounds of decency in a civilized society."
On the other hand, the Court reversed the lower court with regard to claims of invasion of privacy and trespass. Although Dykema and Lincoln argued that its search was consistent with the TRO and that, in any event, Dalley had "consented" to its over-broad search, the Court rejected these claims. It first pointed out that the TRO language did not authorize the Defendants to enter Dalley's apartment or to search computer data other than Lincoln records. The three judges then reviewed Michigan and national law on these topics before concluding that a consent obtained under false pretenses or inappropriate pressure is not valid: if Dalley can prove the gravamen of his allegations, he would be entitled to maintain an action for trespass and for invasion of privacy.